For Blog Against Sexism Day, Chris Clarke turns in a post about the history of the environmental movement and the women in it, with some fascinating words at the end about rape metaphors and environmental depradation:
Underscoring the metaphor, the landscape being discussed was often described as being, before resource extraction, “virgin.” Dave Brower once said, famously and jocularly, that wilderness was where the hand of man had not set foot. These activists had some other appendage in mind. To them, rape was clearly an act by which some man claimed ownership of something that was rightfully the common property of us all, and ruined it for the rest of us. How are we to be expected to enjoy partaking of the virgin forest once it has been raped? Aside from some rather mystical Earth First!ers — most of them women — whose activism was informed by an animist sensibility, few interpreted the trope as signifying that the forest, a discrete entity with a right to existence and self determination, had had its integrity and will and dignity thwarted by force.
To call environmental destruction “rape” is to achieve the startling and counterintuitive accomplishment of trivializing both sins. In using the metaphor, the writer both inflates the importance of a single individual to that of a huge complex of millions of individuals and reduces the anguish of a bonafide rape victim to some pallid parallel, a gouge in a hillside. The metaphor relies on the equation of women to passive, non-sentient resources, and it masks the true nature and depth of the damage to the landscape. It equates rape with the taking of something of monetary value that rightfully belongs to a third party. It assigns women the status of scenery, and we the environmentally concerned—who would husband that violated landscape—are cast as the true victims.
I have seen trivializing rape metaphors all over the place. Sixty bucks for a “vintage” dashiki-print rayon shirt at Anthropologie, for example, is just like being brutally sexually violated. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I see it edging out “gay” as a synonym for “awful.”
I have also seen some very reasoned attempts to analyze attitudes towards the land–responsibility, “husbandry,” possession, communal possession, violation, protection, utility, purpose, dependency, order, God’s gift to mankind, Mother Nature, natural/unnatural–in light of patriarchal attitudes towards women. I agree that that’s not what’s happening here: as Chris says, the metaphor depends on uncritically accepting certain attitudes towards women that are dehumanizing.